‘The new Rs 2,000 note is embedded with GPS trackers,’ claimed a fake Whatsapp message circulated right after the onset of the demonetisation process last November. A recent RTI reply by India Government Mint debunked another widespread report that the government had minted special ultra-high-value coins of Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 200, Rs 1,000 and even Rs 2,000 in recent times.
Closer home, aftermath the collapse of bridges in the 4th Mile and Nagarjan, an old video of a crumbling water-tank was circulated as the collapse of a tank in Walford, Dimapur. When the Rohingya crisis erupted, fake messages were widely shared in social media warning against the “likely attack on the people of Nagaland by the Rohingyas.” Even a national news agency became a gullible victim.
Welcome to the world of ‘Fake News,’ crowned last week as the Collins Dictionary ‘Word of the Year 2017.’ The Dictionary’s compilers, who reportedly monitored over 4.5 bn words, said its usage had increased by 365% since 2016. According to Collins, ‘fake news’ means “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”
While US President Donald Trump might have falsely taken credit for its invention, he definitely popularised the same by employing the term regularly to lash out at the mainstream media. The association of ‘fake’ with ‘news’ started out in the field of comedy as a satire, but around 2005 began to “be applied to false news stories that were circulated with malicious intent rather than as satire,” they noted. In the 20th century, the word was associated with largely state-controlled propaganda.
Coming close on the heels of Oxford Dictionaries declaration of a closely related ‘post-truth’- an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” as its word of the year in 2016, the phenomenon is here to stay.
Claire Wardle in The Guardian argued that fake news is often created with four distinct motivations: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce belonging to communities or “tribes”) and called for tackling these motivations separately.
Basically, most of the news is either fake or half-truths deliberately circulated widely and designed with the intention to – deceive, maximize traffic, profit or spread of disinformation.
If one is part of any social media groups, ‘harmless’ ‘forwarded as received’ or ‘Copy paste’ messages and videos are most sensational and dodgy.
Today, the technology is enabling everyone not only to generate stories but also influences the way it is being read and circulated. At the same time, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp etc are substituting the mainstream media for many.
In such circumstances, the biggest question confronting the media is whether it is building itself as a trustworthy and credible source of news. Conventionally, the Press is supposed to be the Fourth Estate, a Watchdog keeping a check to power that be – the Clergy, the Judiciary and the Executive. However, in ‘fake-news’ and ‘post-truth’ era, where propaganda and misinformation are holding precedence over facts and informed opinion, there is the danger of media turning into a Lapdog.
As the National Press Day – the 16th of November – symbolizing a free and responsible press approaches, it is imperative for media houses in Nagaland to self-introspect and find answers to such challenges.
It should start not by simply ignoring the ‘fake news,’ but proactively busting the myth and generating informed decision based on objectivity and serve as a credible and verified source of news for the general public.